Published by the Delaware County Daily Times July 7, 2016
By Joseph Batory, Times Guest Columnist
In 2010, the Supreme Court handed down a controversial 5-4 decision which has opened the doors for the unprecedented influence of money in elections in the United States.
In that Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, the Supreme Court majority ruled that political spending is protected under the First Amendment. As a result, a deluge of cash has now poured into Super PACs which are theoretically independent from the candidates.
But this is Supreme Court doublespeak nonsense. It is true that candidates do not receive money directly from the Super PACs, but these same candidates can be bankrolled into office by these Super PACs. Millions of dollars are now spent by these Super PACs to run a myriad of favorable ads about a candidate they support and/or negative ones about a candidate they oppose. And many of these ads sponsored by super PACs often take liberties with the truth.
It gets worse. The PACs are required to release the names of donors; however, a technicality in the disclosure rules allows donors to remain anonymous for months. Disclosure can also be completely circumvented by Super PACs that create affiliated nonprofit 501(c) (4) organizations, which are not required to release the names of donors.
The latest Super PAC accounting for the upcoming presidential election indicates that Super PACs have already raised a staggering $700 million and spent more than $300 million in the primary races of the candidates of both political parties.
The majority of Super PAC money to date has come in six-figure or larger checks from corporations and aristocratic Americans (about 158 very wealthy families). Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign.
Ironically, Americans citizens, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll (June 2015), fundamentally reject this windfall of money in elections made possible by the Supreme Court’s ruling and now favor a sweeping overhaul of how political campaigns are financed.
The findings of this poll reveal deep support among Republicans and Democrats alike for new measures to restrict the influence of wealthy givers, including limiting the amount of money that can be spent by these Super PACs as well as forcing more public disclosure on organizations now permitted to intervene in elections without disclosing the names of their donors.
With near unanimity, the public thinks the country’s campaign finance system needs significant changes. There is strong support nationally for limiting the amount of money individuals can contribute to political campaigns, limiting the amount of money groups not affiliated with candidates can spend, and requiring unaffiliated groups to publicly disclose their donors if they spend money during a political campaign.
As candidates in 2016 are benefiting from larger and larger contributions to Super PACs, they run the risk of being controlled by these billionaire and millionaire donors. The needs and wants of these wealthy benefactors becomes the political priority rather than the common good of America’s citizens. Sadly, our Supreme Court by its questionable ruling of five years ago has enabled this to happen.
Joseph Batory, a former superintendent of schools in the Upper Darby School District, has written extensively on the issues of politics and education